The perils of spiritual hoarding

Years ago, I went to a house way out in the countryside to perform a wedding. On my arrival, I was astounded to find the living room absolutely full of stacks of old newspapers. Many were piled far too near to a woodstove in the middle of the room. On using the bathroom, I noticed that even the tub was full of piles of stuff. The lady of the house was a cook at the hospital, and I wondered how long it had been since she had washed!

Hoarding is a psychological disorder usually rooted in some form of severe childhood poverty. A well-off professional friend of ours who had experienced a very poor childhood kept hundreds of tubs of empty plastic containers, bags and other things. She just couldn’t throw away stuff that she might need one day.

We can laugh, but most of us are guilty of some kind of hoarding. Clothes, old sets of electronics cables, batteries, pens, even (in the case of one friend) handbags. And we have a perfectly valid reason for keeping them all!

Jesus told a story about the farmer who, upon retirement, built massive barns to contain all his stuff. He was talking about people who put their trust in material wealth, but are unprepared for a death and judgment that may come far sooner than they expect.

But the parable could have another application. We love to hoard spiritually. We go to church to receive, not to give. We store up mountains of teaching, warehouses full of worship and boatloads of counselling. But we don’t do anything with it.

We are not called to be reservoirs in which the Spirit accumulates. We are called to be channels through which he flows. And when we lose sight of this, the Spirit takes his business elsewhere. And we dry up.

This is true in every kind of church, but it is perhaps more acute in charismatic churches which emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in sustaining our experience of God. This emphasis can be a double-edged sword. If the Spirit was sent to indwell us, we certainly need his continuous filling. That is what Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:18, where the Greek imperative “be filled” has a present continuous sense, “Be continually, day by day filled and refilled with the Spirit.” On the other hand, if we interpret being filled with the Spirit as accumulating more and more experiences of God to benefit ourselves, but have no plan to allow him to flow through us in sacrificial giving to others, our life in God will dry up. There are people who seek ever more spiritual experiences to sustain what could almost be thought of as a religious addiction. And it is no surprise their experiences occasionally wander outside the boundaries of Biblical truth.

This may seem harsh, and perhaps it is. But we need to remember what a friend of mine had inscribed on the wall of his church auditorium in Toronto: “Walk in God’s love, and then give it away.” He was reminding people who came to find experiences of the Spirit what the ultimate purpose of such experiences was.

God’s kingdom is no place to hoard, whether what we are storing away is money, stacks of old papers or spiritual experiences.

Let’s walk in what God has given us and give it away. We might be surprised at what the Spirit does in our lives.